How do you view the sun? Not literally, of course, but figuratively. Do you view sunlight in a positive or negative light (pun intended)? Often, when hearing the words sun exposure, some think about it negatively in terms of their health and wellness. Some try and avoid sunlight to prevent potential health risks, but one widely overlooked fact, is that humans need to absorb sunlight and metabolize it, just like plants need it to grow and thrive. Now, just like with most things, sun exposure is great in moderation. The health risks associated with sun exposure are very real and should be taken seriously. However, that doesn’t mean that sunlight isn’t also beneficial in healthy, moderate doses and with the right precaution. Some scientists even say with moderate sun exposure, the benefits outweigh the risks. With Spring having just arrived, and the sun shining longer, it’s important to talk about how beneficial it is to absorb that sunlight.
The relationship between humans and sunlight is not as forthcoming as one would hope. There are many different factors to consider such as, skin tone, genetic composition, even the climate you live in – but let’s not get into all that nitty gritty. If you’re concerned, or interested in that, I encourage you to talk to your doctor about your specific, individual needs. Onto the good stuff – I’ve laid out a few of the more significant benefits of basking in the sun’s rays.
Sun exposure heightens cognitive function. When we’re absorbing the sun, we’re not just getting a tan, we’re absorbing and metabolizing one of the most important Vitamins we need to be at our healthiest - Vitamin D. Recently, scientists have linked the presence and need of vitamin D in hour brains. One study performed by neuroscientist David Llewellyn at University of Cambridge linked the levels of vitamin D to the cognitive function of 1700 men and women. They found that low levels of vitamin D lead to reduced cognition. There was also evidence that vitamin D increased growth of nerve cells around the area of the brain associated with memory.
Sun exposure lowers hypertension. Unfortunately, high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a disorder that many of our society suffer from. There are many ways known to help lower blood pressure such as diet, exercise and even seeing a chiropractor. But one commonly unknown fact, is that sunlight also helps to regulate blood pressure. A study out of the University of Edinburgh found that the moment your skin is exposed to sunlight, a compound called nitric oxide is released into your bloodstream that helps to reduce the pressure in your arteries. Think about it – by decreasing your blood pressure you are essentially prolonging your life by decreasing the chance of heart disease and strokes.
Sun exposure strengthens your bones. The vitamin D we absorb from the sun plays a major role in the body’s ability to absorb bone strengthening minerals such as calcium and phosphorus. As a child, if we don’t have enough vitamin D in our system, a disorder known as Rickets can occur which is a bone softening disorder. Rickets’ counterpart in adults, is known as osteoporosis and osteomalacia. By just being out in the sun for twenty to thirty minutes, we can greatly reduce these risks and keep our skeletal system – our foundation, strong and sturdy.
Sun exposure can help with depression. Right off the bat we know that lack of sun exposure to the body can lead to a form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). This is far more common during the winter months, which consist of shorter days and more cloud cover, and is also seen in those that work long hours and are void of sunlight. Sun exposure isn’t just beneficial for those with SAD, but helps non-seasonal depression, as well. When sunlight travels through our eyes and hits specific areas of the retina, it results in a release of Serotonin, which is a natural anti-depressant produced by the body that can effectively lift our mood.
Sun exposure can help with various skin conditions. The World Health Organization (WHO), has stated that exposure to the suns’ rays can help certain skin conditions. For many, doctors have been recommending UV radiation for skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema and even acne. Although these benefits are shown to help certain cases, WHO also notes that it’s on a case by case basis and not beneficial to everyone. If you think you may be a candidate for this type of treatment, I urge you to speak to a dermatologist to make the appropriate decision based on the risks and benefits for you, specifically.
So, what is considered moderate sun exposure? The general rule of thumb, is approximately 15-20 minutes of sun on the face, arms and hands, about three times per week to receive the healthy benefits of sun exposure. Since there are risks associated with excessive sun exposure, it’s important to protect your skin if you’re going to be in the sun far more than what is considered moderate. So, if the cooler is packed and you’re hitting the beach for the day – pack the sunscreen. No matter how tan you already are, or how under-exposed you are, and are trying to make up for lost time…pack the sunscreen. Trust me. Excessive sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer – don’t put yourself at risk if you can take preventative measures. Bottom line – in moderation, and with the right protection, sun exposure can be extremely beneficial, both mentally and physically.
This is only a short list of the benefits medical professionals have linked to sun exposure and vitamin D. To reap the benefits of sun exposure, the skin must be able to absorb it, which is prevented by wearing sunscreen. Therefore, it’s so important to allow yourself that moderate sun exposure, while still taking the appropriate precautions. Remember, the amount of vitamin D produced and absorbed depends upon your location, skin color, and genes. So, get outside! Enjoy the sunlight, soak it up, and be safe!